The Rough Guide Map Kenya is the most detailed and comprehensive map to this alluring country. A hugely popular destination for independent travellers and escorted tourists alike, both for its beaches and the safari parks of the interior. The scale of 1:1,000,000 is large enough to make the map easily managable whilst also showing enough detail to pinpoint buildings and dirt tracks. The map is designed for all visitors, whether travelling by car or public transport as it includes train lines and stations, petrol stations, airports, distances between towns, road numbers and details of road surfaces.
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Where to go
Where to travel clearly depends on your personal interests, and the time you have available. Nairobi (p.79) is usually only used as a gateway. The coast (p.408) and major game parks (p.356) are the most obvious targets, and if you come to Kenya on an inclusive tour you're likely to have your time divided between these two attractions. If you like the idea of walking or climbing, there's the hot, dry Rift Valley (p.232) and the high forests and moors of the Central Highlands - Mount Kenya itself is a major target and feasible for most people (p.190). For the best immersion in Kenyan life and culture, the western region (p.270) stands out as accessible and untouristy. For serious adventure, the north (p.545) is one of the most spectacular and memorable of all African regions.
More detailed rundowns on the specific character and appeal of each area are given in the chapter introductions. There too, and at times within the main text, you will find brief backgrounds on the various Kenyan peoples. The ten main language groups can no longer be wholly identified with the regions (and moves towards the cities and intermarriage are blurring distinctions), but some understanding of cultural differences is worth achieving. See also "People and Languages" (p.71) and "Religion and Etiquette" (p.73) in Basics.
When to go
As far as climate is concerned, Kenya has complicated and unpredictable shifts. Broadly, the pattern is that January and February are hot and dry, while from March to May it is hot and wet - this period is known as the "long rains". From June until October the weather is warm and dry, and then come the "short rains", making November and December warm and wet.
Temperatures, though, are determined largely by altitude. Nairobi's are surprisingly moderate compared with, say, London's (see box opposite). You can reckon on a drop of 6C (or 11F) in temperature for every 1000m you climb from sea level. The low-lying coast and the north remain hot all year round, while the highlands (which range to over 4000m and peak above 5000m) are generally warm or mild during the day but much cooler at night. Nairobi, higher than the Cairngorms or the Appalachians, can drop to 5C (41F).
At the highest altitudes, it may rain at almost any time. Western Kenya has a scattered rainfall pattern influenced by Lake Victoria. Temperatures tend to climb towards the end of the dry seasons, particularly in late February and early March, when it can become very humid before the rains break. It's worth noting that Kenya's climate has been drying out in recent years - the chart opposite paints a slightly rainier picture than you'll find in the country now.
The main tourist seasons tie in with the rainfall patterns: the biggest influxes are in December and January and, to a lesser extent, July and August. Dry season travel does have a number of advantages, not least a greater visibility of wildlife as animals are concentrated along the diminishing watercourses. July and August are probably the best months, overall, for game-viewing. October to January are the months with the clearest seas for snorkelling and diving - especially November. In the "long rains", the mountain parks are sometimes closed, as tracks are no longer drivable. But the rainy seasons shouldn't deter travel unduly: the rains usually come only in short afternoon or evening cloudbursts, and the landscape is strikingly green and fresh even if the skies may be cloudy. There are bonuses, too, in the lack of tourists: hotel and often car rental prices are reduced and people generally have more time for you.
If you're concerned about being part of a horde of tourist arrivals, don't let it bother you too much. Kenya's million-odd annual visitors are few compared with the tens of millions that descend on many Mediterranean countries. There is nothing to prevent you escaping the predictable bottlenecks and tourist "oases" for a completely separate experience and, even on an organized tour, you should not feel constrained to follow the prescribed plan.
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